Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Todd’s Ale in Oshkosh

In the picture below is a storefront highlighted in yellow. Here may have been the place where IPA was first served in Oshkosh.

The year was 1885. There was a saloon in that storefront at the corner of Main and Market. It was run by William H. Englebright. In August 1885, Englebright had become sole proprietor of the place. He named it Star and Crescent Sample Rooms.

Englebright was anglophile. In fact, he was born in England in 1857. He reached Oshkosh at the age of 16. But he remained ever the English gent. Englebright and Bob, his full-blooded English pug, were familiar downtown characters.

Englebright maintained a love for the ales of his homeland. Star and Crescent became the “headquarters” for Bass Ale in Oshkosh. He imported it from England. He served it on draft from wooden kegs. And just a month after taking over Star and Crescent, Englebright brought in this...

Oshkosh Daily Northwestern; September 5, 1885.

“Todd’s Ale and Porter and Schlitz’s Milwaukee Beer on draught at 5 Algoma street.”

Forget about the Schlitz. You had to pour some lager if you were going to run a saloon in Oshkosh. What’s of interest here is Todd’s Ale. There’s good evidence that meant IPA.

Todd’s Brewery was in Janesville. It was launched by John G. Todd in 1868. Wisconsin was in the midst of its great lager boom. All the breweries seemed to be making lager beer. Except Todd’s. Todd’s Brewery focused English-style ales. No wonder the brewery caught the eye of Englebright.

By 1880, Todd’s was the dominant ale brewery in Wisconsin. The Janesville brewery claimed it produced two-thirds of all the ale made in the state. Todd’s shipped its beer to Illinois, Michigan. It was sold throughout Wisconsin.

A year before Englebright brought Todd’s to Oshkosh, the brewery introduced its IPA.

Janesville Daily Gazette; June 2, 1884.
This was IPA in its elemental state. A distant cousin to the IPAs getting all the press today. Let’s compare. The most coveted IPAs today are hazy and flooded with hop aroma. The emphasis is on hop flavor as opposed to hop bitterness. They are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible. Not so in 1885.

Todd’s IPA would have been a stock ale – an aged beer. It would have been pale, brilliantly clear, and bracingly bitter. Notice in the ad where it says, “Will keep in any climate, and remain any length of time on draught.” Brewers today would consider that kind of talk heretical.

The two beers have a couple things in common.

Both are massively hopped. But the application was quite different. In the older beer, the hops would have been given a good, long boil to draw out the bitterness. In the modern IPA, the lion’s share of the hop load comes after the boil. The one thing these two truly agree on is strength. In 1885, IPAs were commonly in the 6-7% ABV range. Same goes today.

As good as Todd’s ale may have been, it never made much of a splash in Oshkosh. I haven’t found references to it being served here after 1886. The Todd family sold their ale brewery in 1890. In 1898 it was closed.

In 1900, William Englebright moved to Ripon where he ran The Hotel Englebright.

It was there that Englebright had his right ear torn off in a freak accident involving a kitchen door.

William Englebright returned to Oshkosh in the 1930s. He died here in 1940. He’s buried in Riverside Cemetery. His old ale house at Algoma and Market was demolished after a fire in 1996. The sundial is now there.

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